ViewPoint

Jun 28

How Susan Wojcicki’s Response On Stage at Code 2019 is a Lesson in Crisis Communications

By Jean Serra

Crisis communications preparedness and best practices have been a hot topic at V2 these past few months as we prepared to launch our crisis communications practice (check out this great Q&A with practice lead Melissa Mahoney). So, it was through this lens that I watched, listened and cringed a little at Code 2019 when YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki took the stage for a fireside chat with Recode’s Peter Kaftka.

Appearing after a tumultuous week that saw YouTube called out for its policy decisions related to conservative commentator Steven Crowder and Vox journalist Carlos Maza, Wojcicki started by apologizing for the unintentional hurt these decisions caused to the LGBTQ community. She was empathetic and sincere in her delivery, and seemingly tried to get the issue out there so the interview could move on, all underscored by the fact that she grabbed the reins as soon as she arrived on stage to make that statement personally to the Code 2019 attendees and all those watching, listening or reading about it after the event.

But there was little moving on from the topic of YouTube’s policies around hate speech and violative content. This was partly because Wojcicki lacked conviction and clarity in her answers to questions about her role in personally viewing videos in question, what YouTube’s policies will be moving forward and how they can manage it at scale. The audience was frustrated by her answers, and for some, her performance as the chief spokesperson on this issue. In fact, some attendees commented that they’d never seen her like this on a stage.

To be fair, it was an incredibly challenging position for YouTube and Wojcicki to be in just a few days after the height of the crisis. The room was emotionally charged and there were timely, tough and sometimes personal questions to answer from Kaktka and the audience. However, it was a reminder of a few communications best practices when managing through a crisis:

  • Know the facts
  • Communicate clearly and with confidence
  • It’s OK to admit if it isn’t completely resolved – but talk about how the organization is being proactive to get there

For more information on how to prepare your organization for a sudden or smoldering crisis, visit V2’s services page.

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